CAMPIDOGLIO AND CAPITOLINE MUSEUMS, Capitoline Museums Marcus Aurelius

Audio File length: 2.26
English / USA Language: English / USA

Now let me tell you about the statue you saw a copy of in the square: it is of Marcus Aurelius, the great emperor-philosopher. This is the only bronze monument of a man on horseback that has come from ancient times, and it probably dates back to 161 BC, the year of Marcus Aurelius's ascent to the imperial throne. The statuary group is about 4.2 meters tall, and was originally completely golden. In order to achieve this, a technique called "lost-wax casting" was used, which called for the various pieces to be made separately, then welded together using molten metal.

Look at the statue carefully and walk around it: the emperor perfectly expresses the serenity and stability that characterized his 19 years of dominion, thanks also to his love for philosophy and hatred for war. His expression is intense and thoughtful, his hair and beard are well-groomed and detailed, and the fact that he's wearing a tunic instead of armor makes you think of a balanced monarch instead of a warrior, carrying out his daily tasks governing the empire. His gestures lack rhetoric and are authoritative, the pose is typical of speeches called adlocutio, which emperors and generals gave when addressing the army before a battle. Also note the accurate proportions and anatomical correctness of the horse.

We don't know where this monument had been placed in antiquity, but in the Middle Ages it was definitely located in Piazza del Laterano. It managed to survive the pillaging and melting of the pagan statues only because it was mistaken for Emperor Constantine, who was a symbol of Christian religion. In the Renaissance it became the model that inspired most of the monuments on horseback, starting with Gattamelata, which Donatello made in Padua in the mid-1400s.

Michelangelo proposed placing the statue in the new square of Capitoline Hill when he was working on the square's design.

After a lengthy restoration that was completed twenty years ago, scholars and researchers decided that it would be best to protect the statue from the risks of weather and vandalism, for example when TNT exploded in front of Campidoglio in 1979.


FUN FACT: legend has it that at the end of time the statue of Marcus Aurelius will be covered in gold as it originally was, and the clump on the horse's head will turn into an owl; this is when the Last Judgment will begin.

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